OTTUMWA — Even in the midst of the COVID-19 virus, Blessings Soup Kitchen is working hard to make sure that no person will go hungry.
And more volunteers have stepped up to the plate to meet the needs of many.
“It’s obvious that people need it right now,” said Sheri Locke-Smith, Blessings co-founder.
Blessings does not allow people to come into the soup kitchen and pick up their meals due to the number of volunteers working and because of the virus concerns. Instead, those in need of food pick up their meals curbside or walk up to retrieve their meals from Locke-Smith.
Since Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the no dining policy, Locke-Smith said her and the volunteers have fed between 250 to 300 people per day. In total they prepared 1,386 to-go meals, “with a kitchen that doesn’t have a stove.”
Around 10 to 15 volunteers work each day, preparing the meals, which consist of a main course, fries, a dessert and a drink, wrapping the food tightly and wearing gloves when doing so. Locke-Smith, her husband Gary and the volunteers take extra precautions such as maintaining a distance of 6 feet and deep cleaning the kitchen after each use.
Locke-Smith wakes up early, around the crack of dawn, drives from her home in Packwood to Ottumwa and goes to bed late, and then does it all over again. It gets tiring for her, but she credits God and the volunteers for allowing her to preserve in these dire times.
“The people in Ottumwa have been so beautiful to step up and help,” Locke-Smith said. “It’s really great.”
Running a soup kitchen, especially during this pandemic, has presented its fair share of challenges. The biggest, she said, would have to be finances. Since the need for meals is far greater than it was prior to the outbreak, Locke-Smith and Gary have had to buy more supplies, which has “increased exponentially.”
Although they face up to the pressure of meeting needs and paying finances, Locke-Smith continues to put her faith and trust in the Lord.
“God has always, always seen that we have what we needed,” she said. “I never have excess money, but somehow the money comes in as we need it.”
There was one day during the week where Locke-Smith said she experienced God’s miracles, a circumstance similar to “the feeding of the 5,000.” It is a story in the Gospel of Matthew that describes Jesus taking five loaves and two fishes and multiplying it to feed the 5,000 people in need of food.
“I thought we weren’t going to make it … the other day we had fed — 11 minutes in we already had 140 meals out the door,” she said, “and I panicked. I came in and held the food up and thanked God for it and asked Him to bless it and multiply it … the last food in my left hand went to the last person.”
Even though feeding many residents presents challenges, it has brought hope to many. Feeding families, she said, has brought the community closer together, a bond she hopes sticks around.
“It’s a good time of optimism because instead of getting down, I’ve seen people really come together,” she said. “I see the blessings that Blessings is for families and that has made my heart even closer to God’s project here. It’s exactly what he would want.”